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“Dr. Joe” Gettys turned 107 in April 2014

July-August 2014
Dr. Joseph M. Gettys
Dr. Joseph M. Gettys

Joseph Miller Gettys was born in 1907 at Water Oaks, his family’s 150 acre farm near Tirzah in York County, SC. He was the eighth of eleven children. All of his siblings completed college degrees, and several completed advanced degrees. Dr. Gettys attended Erskine College in Due West, SC. Upon his graduation he enrolled in the Erskine Seminary for one year then was offered a three year fellowship at the New York Biblical Seminary. He moved to New York City, earning a BA and a masters degree in systematic theology there. He then attended New York University and completed a doctorate of philosophy in 1938.

After coming to Presbyterian College in 1956 to teach in the Religion Department, he later served the college as Academic Dean from 1962-69. He was named the first Kristen Herrington Professor of Bible, a chair later held by Dr. George Ramsey, and currently held by Dr. Robert A. Bryant. This endowed chair was funded by Mr. and Mrs. John F. McLeod in memory of their granddaughter who passed away at the age of four. Mr. McLeod was a long-time member of the PC Board of Trustees.

After Dr. Gettys retired from PC in 1974, he delivered the 1975 Commencement address, “Computer or Conscience,” and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from PC during the ceremony. He later received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Erskine College and in 2003 was inducted into Erskine’s Academic Hall of Fame.

Dr. Gettys served 44 churches as pastor or interim pastor over the years. He founded two Presbyterian churches, Westminster Presbyterian in Greenwood, SC and Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC. He was a prolific author of over 20 books, including religious booklets and Sunday school materials for young people. One of his most popular books is What Presbyterians Believe, which sold over 50,000 copies in the first printing.

Dr. Joe’s lovely wife of 67 years, Mary Lou Schirmer Gettys, a Presbyterian elder and gifted church educator herself, was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease in the 1990s. Dr. Joe kept a journal during that period and was encouraged by nurses at the Presbyterian Home of SC where they had been living since 1993 to share his experience with other caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients. He wrote Caregivers Can Survive, which went into a second printing in 2004, a year after Mary Lou passed away. He stated in an interview, “If the sharing helps someone else undergoing a similar experience, then it becomes worthwhile…this is our purpose and this is our hope.”

Dr. Joe played golf into his 90s and until recently, he planted tomatoes, squash, and peanuts outside his apartment at the Presbyterian Community of SC in Clinton. Growing up on the farm in York County, the family “grew what we ate and ate what we grew,” he told the Clinton Chronicle in May 2010. He and his brothers and sisters had worked tirelessly to harvest cotton and a variety of fruits and vegetables on the family farm.

Dr. Joe is still busy at age 107, making his morning rounds to greet fellow residents at the Presbyterian Community of SC in Clinton, attending PC Basketball games, tending his garden, and riding the First Presbyterian Church bus to Sunday services each week. At his 100th birthday celebration in 2007, he was awarded Presbyterian College’s highest honor, the PC Medallion, established in 2001 and given to individuals who exemplify the central characteristics of a Christian leader. In 2004, Dr. Joseph M. Gettys was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest award recognizing his “contributions and friendship to the State of South Carolina and her people.”

On the walls of his apartment hang numerous awards and citations, many if not most received after his retirement from Presbyterian College in 1974. He continues to provide pastoral care to his fellow residents at the Presbyterian Community, once stating, “I thank the good Lord for giving me the strength to do all that He’s enabled me to do.”